Monthly Archives: November 2014

November 3, 2014

Supersystem Design for the 2020s: PICMG GEN4

Industry NewsNewsPICMG

Article by Ernie Bergstrom, President of Crystal Cube Consulting, and chairperson of the PICMG GEN4 Open Server Summit sessions

How will your organization be developing high-performance embedded hardware 10 years from now?  Surely you’ll want a mature open modular standard with far greater capabilities than systems have today!  And you’ll want one that has support for today’s advanced features built-in, can handle a wide variety of applications, is maintainable and upgradable, and has a large ecosystem.  If you want that standard to be widely available, we must start to define it today.

PICMG GEN4 is a proposed new specification for high-performance embedded computing.  It will provide an open modular standard for high-end applications in telecom, datacom, military/aerospace, industrial/process control, and instrumentation.  It will offer new levels of compute, storage, and networking capabilities with throughput in the terabit range and storage in the exabyte range.  It will support such key demands as software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), cloud computing, and cybersecurity.

GEN4 will obviously provide the highest performance of any embedded specification developed so far.  Not only will it include the latest technology, but it will also have a proven backer in PICMG with 20 years experience in specification development. PICMG provides continued support and development from both vendors and customers.  And all its specifications are non-proprietary with strong disclosure policies on intellectual property.  None of PICMG’s 55 standards requires a license to implement.

PICMG is a 20-year old industry organization that has focused on developing open modular standards for embedded computing.   Its latest high-end standard, AdvancedTCA, had over 100 organizations involved in its development (completed in 2002).  It is currently supported by over 1,000 vendors and has a $5 billion dollar annual market.  PICMG has over 250 members worldwide, including AMD, Agilent, Airbus, BAE Systems, Cisco, Ericsson, General Dynamics C4S, Huawei, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Mentor Graphics, Mercury Computer, National Instruments, NetApp, Northrop Grumman, Nokia Solutions and Networks, Raytheon, Sandia National Laboratories, TE Connectivity, Thales Global Services, and ZTE

Why should telecom, military, and instrumentation developers be interested in a PICMG GEN4 specification?  Our findings showed that it will provide a standard hardware base, greatly simplifying hardware development and maintenance while avoiding proprietary approaches.  It will offer the high throughput required for central office equipment, wireless basestations, military communications systems, fire control, signal processing, electronic warfare, robotics, vehicles, detection systems, and many other applications.  It will include hardware platform management for use in maintenance and upgrades.  It is the latest in a family of specifications that have enjoyed wide acceptance, large markets, and major ecosystems involving hundreds of vendors and thousands of products.  GEN4 offers an open modular hardware base for systems developed and in use through the 2020’s.

Finally, organizations can join PICMG at low cost, entitling them to participate in all existing committees and form new ones. The GEN4 specification development will start late this year and will involve weekly committee calls.  We expect the process to take between two and three years.  Members can form new committees to develop parallel or ancillary specifications to meet specific environmental or mechanical needs, handle certification requirements, and create special capabilities (such as for highly secure, highly available, or vertical applications).  PICMG is sponsoring a free kickoff meeting at the Open Server Summit at the Santa Clara Convention Center (Santa Clara, CA) on November 13, 2014.  For more information, see or

Ernie Bergstrom is President of Crystal Cube Consulting, and chairperson of the PICMG GEN4 Open Server Summit sessions You can reach him at [email protected].

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